Turner Classic Movies’ series “Race in Hollywood: Latino Images in Film” kicks off this evening.
So what if “Latino” isn’t a “race“?
So what if it isn’t even an ethnic or a cultural group, but merely a U.S.-made sociopolitical construct?
Well, one might ay that matters here are the films themselves – all Hollywood productions. And hopefully some of the introductions, provided by Robert Osborne and UCLA professor of film and media studies Chon A. Noriega, will be illuminating.
Tonight, TCM watchers will be able to catch Hollywood’s foremost couple of the 1920s, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, playing Spanish-speaking characters (by way of English-language intertitles) in, respectively, the D.W. Griffith-directed early short Ramona – and we’re talking 1910 here, before Pickford became a superstar – and the 1920 feature The Mark of Zorro. The latter is much inferior to Rouben Mamoulian’s classy 1940 production starring Tyrone Power, but it’s worth a look for historical reasons. The Mark of Zorro, after all, was the film that turned happy-go-lucky, modern-day, all-American Douglas Fairbanks into the happy-go-lucky king of costume adventure epics of the 1920s.
Old San Francisco is great to look at, and so is its leading lady, Dolores Costello (right, that’s Drew Barrymore’s grandmother). Dramatically the film leaves something to be desired, but in addition to Costello there’s Warner Oland playing Chinese for a change, Anna May Wong also playing Chinese, and an earthquake playing havoc in the Bay Area. Don’t miss it.
Now, I’m assuming that someone somewhere will complain that Dolores Costello was an Anglo-Saxon blonde playing “Latina.” How dare she? Well, never mind that dark-haired Mexican Ramon Novarro was playing Northern European heroes at that same time. Not to mention the fact that there were – and are – lots of blond Spaniards (and descendants) – and it’s not only ignorant but downright racist to impose a particular look for their screen portrayal.
I haven’t seen Big Stakes – in fact, I hadn’t even heard of it. But H.B. Warner (Jesus Christ in Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings) was always a reliable performer. Check it out. The same goes for Rouben Mamoulian’s musical Western The Gay Desperado, featuring Nino Martini and Ida Lupino. The film earned Mamoulian the New York Film Critics best director award in 1935.
A troubled, complex production – director/star Raoul Walsh was seriously injured in a road accident and had to be replaced by Irving Cummings (behind the camera) and Warner Baxter (in front of the camera); newfangled sound technology had to be applied to outdoor filming – the Fox Film Corporation’s Cisco Kid Western In Old Arizona turned out to be a major box office hit, catapulting Baxter to Hollywood stardom and eventually earning him the first Best Actor Academy Award for a talkie performance.
Billed as the first outdoor talking picture, In Old Arizona is a must-see. The film itself is weak, the performances range from awful to atrocious – Baxter and leading lady Dorothy Burgess’ Spanish “dialect” coach should have been guillotined – but the creaky Fox Western boasts a surprisingly raunchy pre-Production Code sensibility.
Baxter and Edmund Lowe’s my-gun-is-bigger-than-yours chat remains humorous – in fact, it’s much more suggestive than the similar gun-size chat found two decades later in Howard Hawks’ Red River – while the finale is hardly the sort of moralistic wrap-up one has come to expect from most Hollywood productions then or now.
The film’s credited co-director, Raoul Walsh, had been set to play the role of the Mexican-Portuguese (?!) bandido, but a road accident during filming left him blind in one eye, thus effectively ending his resurgent acting career. Irving Cummings, who’d later direct several Fox vehicles for the likes of Betty Grable and Alice Faye, finished up the film.
As a result of Walsh’s accident, Warner Baxter – who, five years later, would be pushing Ruby Keeler to stardom after diva Bebe Daniels breaks her ankle in 42nd Street – stepped in as a mid-level leading man and came out a major star following the success of In Old Arizona.
TCM Schedule, Pacific Time
5:00pm Ramona (1910)
In this silent short, a rancher’s daughter runs off with a Native.
Cast: Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, Francis J. Grandon, Kate Bruce Dir: D.W. Griffith C-17 mins
5:30pm The Mark of Zorro (1920)
In this silent film, a Mexican Robin Hood harasses corrupt Spanish invaders.
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite de la Motte, Noah Beery, Charles Hill Mailes, Claire McDowell Dir: Fred Niblo BW-107 mins
7:30pm Old San Francisco (1927)
In this silent film, an Asian villain menaces a family of aristocratic Spanish settlers.
Cast: Dolores Costello, Warner Oland, Charles Emmett Mack, Josef Swickard Dir: Alan Crosland BW-89 mins
9:15pm Big Stakes (1922)
An American cowboy and a Mexican lawman clash over a beautiful woman.
Cast: H.B. Warner, Elinor Fair, Les Bates, Willie May Carson Dir: Clifford S. Elfelt BW-67 mins
10:30pm In Old Arizona (1928)
The Cisco Kid’s faithless lover plots to turn the bandit in for the reward.
Cast: Edmund Lowe, Dorothy Burgess, Warner Baxter, J. Farrell MacDonald Dir: Irving Cummings BW-99 mins
12:15am The Gay Desperado (1936)
A Mexican bandit kidnaps a singing cowboy star to learn American ways.
Cast: Nino Martini, Ida Lupino, Leo Carrillo, Harold Huber Dir: Rouben Mamoulian BW-87 mins
1:45am Viva Villa! (1934)
Rousing biography of the bandit chief who led the battle for Mexican independence.
Cast: Wallace Beery, Leo Carrillo, Fay Wray, Donald Cook. Dir: Howard Hawks BW-110 mins
In June, Turner Classic Movies’ month-long series “Great Directors” will be celebrating the efforts of 52 films directors, from past and present, from Hollywood and overseas (though, as to be expected, mostly Hollywood).
Among TCM’s “greats” are, inevitably, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Steven Spielberg, and John Ford, but also Jacques Tourneur, Mervyn LeRoy, and Budd Boetticher.
Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Carol Reed, and Ingmar Bergman are four of the non-Hollywood filmmakers who have been included in the series.
Each weekday of the “Great Directors” series will feature two directors – one during the day; the other at night. The daytime lineup includes Victor Fleming (June 2), Fritz Lang (June 8), John Huston (June 11), Jacques Tourneur (June 12), Robert Wise (June 16), Blake Edwards (June 19), Otto Preminger (June 23), David Lean (June 26) and Sidney Lumet (June 29).
Weeknight primetime directors include John Ford (June 1), Frank Capra (June 2), Ingmar Bergman (June 4), Steven Spielberg (June 5), Preston Sturges (June 10), Akira Kurosawa (June 11), Woody Allen (June 12), Orson Welles (June 16), François Truffaut (June 18), Martin Scorsese (June 19), Stanley Kubrick (June 24), Federico Fellini (June 25), Norman Jewison (June 26) and Cecil B. DeMille (June 29).
Each Saturday and Sunday, TCM will present 24 hours of one director’s work. The filmmakers in questions are William Wyler (June 6), Michael Curtiz (June 7), Billy Wilder (June 13), Howard Hawks (June 14), Mervyn LeRoy (June 20), Vincente Minnelli (June 21), Alfred Hitchcock (June 27) and George Cukor (June 28).